High-Dose EPA/DHA Supplementation Found to Significantly Decrease Daily Smoking and Tobacco Craving

July 10, 2014


Effects of Omega-3 Fatty Acids on Tobacco Craving in Cigarette Smokers : A Double-Blind, Randomized, Placebo-Controlled Pilot Study
Rabinovitz , S., Journal of Psychopharmacology, 28: 804-809, 2014
University of Haifa, Mount Carmel, Haifa, Israel


Prolonged exposure to numerous smoke-derived toxicants is a primary cause of progressive lung malfunctioning associated with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (including chronic bronchitis, emphysema, and lung cancer). Low intakes of EPA/DHA omega-3 fatty acids have been linked to reduced psychological health and a reduced ability to cope with stress. This is the first well-controlled clinical trial to evaluate the potential effects of EPA/DHA supplementation on tobacco craving in regular smokers.

The subjects enrolled in this study (48 participants, average age of 29 years) had a smoking history of more than 10 cigarettes/day for the past 12 months and reported moderate levels of nicotine dependence. The smokers were randomly assigned to receive either daily supplementation with close to 5000 mg EPA/DHA daily (actual was 4,750 mg EPA/DHA consisting of 2710 mg EPA plus 2040 mg DHA) or a ‘placebo’ (devoid of EPA/DHA). Tobacco craving was determined via the TCQ (Tobacco Craving Questionnaire) at initiation, after 30 days of supplementation, and again at 30 days following cessation of supplementation. No significant difference between the two groups in tobacco craving was present at initiation.

The results showed a significant reduction (by 26 % overall) in tobacco craving after one month of supplementation in the omega-3 group with no change in the ‘placebo’ (control) group. Those in the omega-3 group still maintained a moderately reduced craving one month after ceasing supplementation. One month of EPA/DHA supplementation also resulted in a significant decrease (by 11.2 % overall) in the number of cigarettes smoked daily while no change was found in the control group. The author concluded that omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids may be of benefit in managing tobacco consumption.

Dr. Holub's Comments:

This controlled study is the first to indicate that EPA/DHA omega-3 fatty acid supplementation reduces tobacco craving in regular smokers. Since this trial was conducted over a relatively short duration in smokers with a moderate level of nicotine dependence, future studies using a larger population of smokers and extended time periods are warranted. While this study was not directed to the underlying mechanism(s) of action of omega-3, one plausible explanation is that the omega-3 fatty acids may affect dopamine release and transmission in the brain. Dopamine, a hormone and neurotransmitter in the brain, plays a major role in reward-motivated behavior related to addiction. It is noted that the relatively high dose of EPA/DHA given in this study (approaching 5000 mg/day) is considered to be generally safe by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and Health Canada.

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